Jane S. Segal
Le Château is a Canadian specialty retailer and manufacturer of contemporary fashion apparel, accessories, and footwear at value pricing for style-conscious women and men of all ages.
Founded in 1959 by Herschel Segal, Le Château was the first retailer in Canada to sell fashion’s trendiest looks at affordable prices. What began as a single store on Montréal’s hippest street has grown into a Canadian retail empire of over 230 locations in Canada, the U.S. and the Middle East. Today, Le Château is a publicly owned, vertically-integrated fashion powerhouse that manufactures approximately 2 million garments per year in its own Canadian facilities.
Le Château’s mission is to translate at lightening speed, the latest runway fashions and global trends into must-have looks that clearly coordinate into a continuous flow of new collections, quickly delivered to an ageless customer by our dynamic sales team.
Founded by Herschel Segal in 1959, as "Le Chateau Men's Wear", it began as a menswear store in downtown Montreal's Victoria Square, on St. Catherine's Street, a bustling shopping district at the time. Segal gave his store a French name because of the budding francophone feelings occurring in Quebec. At first, Le Château was not a "fashion-forward" store, as it would later become, as Segal sold overstock from his father's old store. In 2003, Segal described his early customers as "old ... blue-haired ladies." Le Château did well at first, and three more stores were opened. However, by the early 1960s the company was close to bankruptcy, and all but the original store were closed.
In 1962, Le Château added women's clothing, shortened the name to "Le Château," and switched to selling the latest imported European fashions. The store imported from Carnaby Street in London, a fashion centre at the time, as well as other imports such as French suits and Italian turtlenecks. This worked well, and within a few years, Le Château completely phased out the original traditional clothing style to concentrate on selling fashionable imports to youths. Segal claims that Le Château was the first to introduce bell bottoms to Canada, and had the latest European fashion before it even arrived in New York. Le Château played an integral yet little known role in John Lennon and Yoko Ono's 1969 Montreal bed-in, providing the signature velour jumpsuits worn by the pair. By 1972, the chain grew to 10 stores, and by the end of the decade Le Château had over 50 stores across Canada. By this time, Le Château had shifted to selling mainstream fashion instead of the latest imports from Europe.
In December 1983, Le Château had its initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX), where it has since remained. It raised $7.3 million. By the early 1990s, Le Château had 160 stores and had switched to doing most of its design and manufacturing itself. In the early 1990s, there was a prolonged recession in Canada which hurt most business in the clothing industry.
In the mid 90s Le Château experimented briefly with Goth styled clothing and in 1997, they launched a short lived adolescent girls brand "Jr. Girls."
In the 1990s, Le Château had become criticized for cheap clothing and achieved a nickname "Le Crapeau." By 1999, the company's stock fell to an eight-year low and the company took a large quarterly loss of $1.3 million in the three months ended July 29, 2000, compared with a profit of $1.1 million a year earlier. This led to a management shakeup, store redesign, changes to the merchandise, and according to Le Château, a concerted effort to improve their quality and image. Executives at Le Château said their designers went too avant-garde and the chain's younger market "recoiled."
In 2003, Segal acknowledged the "disposable fashion" stereotype, and said the company "forgot about" the product. Since then, Le Château has been trying to build up their brand image, and shed the image that their clothes are "only for wearing to nightclubs," a view that still persists. That year, they released a collection designed based on the 1960s-set Renée Zellweger movie, Down with Love and were the exclusive supplier of clothing to Canadian Idol contestants.
Today, the company is quite profitable and they are often described as selling trendy fashions selling inexpensive clothes to a young market.